October 20, 2010

Organizations Nationwide and Key Public Figures Tell FBI: Stop Your Witch-hunt!

October 18 – One Day before Grand Jury, organizations issue joint letter to US Attorney General Holder, FBI Director Mueller, US Attorney for the Northern District of Illinois Fitzgerald

Just one day before community activists are expected to present subpoenaed documents to a Grand Jury in Chicago, 68 organizations and dozens of public figures demand an end to FBI investigations and Grand Jury subpoenas on community activists, via a jointly signed letter. Signatories include the American Friends Service Committee (Western Region), National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights, and American-Arab anti-Discrimination Committee, as well as four San Francisco Supervisors, and Rashida Tlaib of the Michigan House of Representatives.

The jointly signed letter was presented today at 2pm EST, and comes in response to the September 24th raids on the Illinois and Minnesota homes and offices of at least 14 community activists. Included among those targeted for alleged “Material Support for Terrorism” are community members and organizations that have worked for as many as 20 years to achieve peace through non-violent means, all them engaged in legitimate and protected political dissent.

Masao Suzuki, a member of San Jose Nihonmachi Outreach Committee, also was questioned by the FBI in California on a related visit the same day of the raids. “I exercised my right not to answer his questions, but had no idea why he came. Then I learned that the homes of seven anti-war activists and the office of an anti-war organization had been raided in Chicago and Minneapolis,” said Suzuki. “The government seems to be trying to criminalize the political view of these activists, who have spoken out in solidarity with people who have suffered the loss of their lands and their rights.”

The organizational and individual signatories to this letter are demanding that the FBI cease further investigations and use of infiltrators against the legitimate political activities of anti-war and international solidarity activists. The FBI has a history of using such tactics against political movements, including the infamous COINTELPRO, a government program of harassment and intimidation of community activists.

Organizations throughout the country are concerned that these investigations are an attempt to silence those who engage in community-based work and speak out against government policies. Miryam Rashid, a member of Chicagoland's Arab and Muslim Community Coalition commented, “There is something very, very wrong with what our government is doing. The right to speak out against foreign policies that make people suffer is NOT a crime. The right to dissent is NOT a crime.”

Local politicians in other parts of the country are also concerned that the FBI may attempt to expand these investigations to other cities. “San Francisco has a long tradition of working for human rights at local and international levels. We stand with those targeted in other cities and will do everything in our power not to let this type of intimidation be used here in our city,” commented San Francisco Supervisor John Avalos.
On October 19th, the Committee to Stop FBI Repression is calling for a 3rd National Call-in Day to demand that President Obama and US Attorney General Holder call off this Grand Jury and return all materials seized by the FBI.

More information can be found at www.stopfbi.net.

October 18, 2010

Patrick Fitzgerald
United States Attorney’s Office
Northern District of Illinois, Eastern Division
219 S. Dearborn St., 5th Floor
Chicago, IL 60604

The Honorable Eric Holder
Attorney General
United States Department of Justice
950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20530-0001

The Honorable Robert S. Mueller, III
Federal Bureau of Investigation
935 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20535-0001

RE: Investigations of Anti-War and International Solidarity Activists

Dear Mr. Fitzgerald,

As a group of concerned organizations, professors and elected officials, we write to denounce the use of sweeping raids and grand juries in your ongoing investigation of anti-war and international solidarity activists in Chicago and Minnesota. We are deeply concerned that your efforts to investigate individuals and organizations engaged in protected political activity has caused a chilling effect, not just on the individual targets of the investigation, but on many individuals engaged in constitutionally protected political dissent.

Grand juries have historically been used to disrupt and undermine political dissent. It is true that “[c]itizens generally are not constitutionally immune from grand jury subpoenas.” Branzburg v. Hayes, 408 U.S. 665, 682 (1972). Indeed, the U.S. Supreme Court has held that “[a]lthough the powers of the grand jury are not unlimited and are subject to the supervision of a judge, the longstanding principle that the public has a right to every man’s evidence, except for those persons protected by a constitutional, common law, or statutory privilege, is particularly applicable to grand jury proceedings.” U.S. v. Dionisio, 410 U.S. 1, 9 (1973) (internal citations omitted).

But even grand jury proceedings must respect constitutional guarantees. Justice Powell authored the Supreme Court decision in U.S. v. U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Michigan, Southern Division, et al., wherein he discussed the use of grand juries and their inevitable implications:

As illustrated by a flood of cases before us this Term, we are currently in the throes of another national seizure of paranoia, resembling the hysteria which surrounded the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Palmer Raids, and the McCarthy era. Those who register dissent or who petition their governments for redress are subjected to scrutiny by grand juries, by the FBI, or even by the military. Their associates are interrogated. Their homes are bugged and their telephones are wiretapped. They are befriended by secret government informers. Their patriotism and loyalty are questioned. Senator Sam Ervin, who has chaired hearings on military surveillance of civilian dissidents, warns that ‘it is not an exaggeration to talk in terms of hundreds of thousands of . . . dossiers.’… More than our privacy is implicated. Also at stake is the reach of our Government’s power to intimidate its critics. When the Executive attempts to excuse these tactics as essential to its defense against internal subversion, we are obliged to remind it, without apology of this Court’s long commitment to the preservation of the Bill of Rights from the corrosive environment of precisely such expedients. (emphasis added) 407 U.S. 297, 329-330 (1972).

In his critique of grand juries, Justice Powell also discussed the impact of FBI investigations of individuals engaged in protected First Amendment activity. Today, the FBI’s use of informants in religious institutions[1] and civic organizations[2] has raised widespread alarm within these communities, inhibiting the expression of constitutionally protected religious activity and political speech. In conjunction with the current FBI raids, the grand jury subpoenas, and ongoing investigations of non-profit leaders and anti-war activists, such government activity reflects an aggressive assault on political dissent, one which has quickly led to “another state of [national] paranoia,” as noted above.

[1] See e.g. Teresa Watanabe and Scott Glover, “Man says he was informant for FBI in Orange County,” Los Angeles Times, 26 Feb. 2009; Nick Schou, “The FBI, the Islamic Center of Irvine and Craig Monteilh: Who was Conning Whom?” OC Weekly, 30 Apr. 2009; Leila Fadel, “Muslims in U.S. feel unfairly implicated in war on terror,” McKlatchy Newspapers, 11 Oct. 2009; Salvador Hernandez, “Informant tells of role in FBI probes,” The Orange County Register, 30 Dec. 2009.

[2] See U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, “A Review of the FBI’s Investigations of Certain Domestic Advocacy Groups,” September 2010.